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10:44 am: More on Spindrift

I've been reading a bit more about Spindrift and continue to find it amazing!  

[For those who missed the previous post: Spindrift was an organization that applied scientific method to prayer. They set up hundreds and hundreds of experiments where people prayed over plants of various kinds. Sometimes, they would set up the experiment so that what it looked like the plants needed was not what they really needed -- imagine the plant looks dehydrated, but there's really something amiss with the soil. They found out that if you prayed "God, give this plant more water," the prayers often worked...but did not help the plant. But those who prayed with a sense of Divine Love and asked "Thy will be done" -- that kind of prayer helped the plants, regardless of whether or not the person praying knew what was wrong.]

From a paper on Spindrift:

 

“Spindrift invited people from the Hindu, Christian Science, Jewish, Quaker, Zen Buddhist, New Age, Scientology, Unitarian, Catholic, and Assembly of God backgrounds, not to mention other Christian denominations, and faith healers to be tested.  I personally imagined that a whole lot of differences in the results would come out of people’s prayers from different religions.  It was quite a surprise to see that the spiritual makeup or character and possibly the personality type of the person praying had more to do with his conveying distant prayer than his religious background. (See qualities in Galatians 5:22,23.)

We were curious if a person’s religious affiliation mattered.  Would a Jewish prayer be different in effect than a Christian prayer?  Would a seasoned Christian get stronger results than a beginner?  What would happen with a Baptist praying followed by a Buddhist?  How would a quiet monk do over a robust evangelist?  Would an atheist with a strong intention to do good get a result akin to prayer?  Gradually we came to the position that a person’s qualitative makeup was more germane to his holiness than his denomination.  (Also some people did unintentional harm when they prayed for a test.)”




Comments

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From:juliet_winters
Date:March 27th, 2008 08:18 pm (UTC)

Unintentional harm

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Interesting.
I'm not sure I would be willing to take part in such a test. I am minded of people who blame the praying ones when someone dies, as in the sad case of the young girl who died from untreated diabetes this week. The parents said, "I guess we just didn't pray hard enough!"
They still thought she had a shot at being raised from the dead. Yep, if it's God's will but I would think that extremely unlikely. Again, they would blame themselves and their lack of faith if that did not come to pass.
See story below, but it's sad. She was such a young, bright child:

http://www.propeller.com/viewstory/2008/03/26/girl-dies-from-diabetes-after-parents-pray-for-healing/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwcco.com%2Flocal%2Fpraying.parents.arrested.2.684930.html&frame=true

The attached discussion is pretty awful. Some people are even blaming Bush.
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 27th, 2008 10:36 pm (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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This comes up in Christian Science from time to time. So many children saved through Christian Science -- children saved from incurable diseases, never covered in the news. Once in a while someone dies, and the news is all over it.

I recall once reading a newspaper of such thing that had two cases together. Once of a CS child who died of something thought easily cured by modern medicine. The other about a CS child who had a non-fatel but painful condition. A judge ordered the child to have surgery, and the child died during the surgery.

This case sounds different, though. It doesn't sound like Christian Science -- which at least has a proven track record of healing -- was involved but rather just a regular family prayer. That's kind of odd. I wonder what their objection was for bringing her to the doctor.

Spindrift had a lot of trouble getting people to pray -- churches thought they were blasphemous and scientists discounted that prayer could work without even looking into it. But they did get volunteers, nonetheless. They limited their prayers to plants, however, because they wanted something that could be approached with scientific rigor. You can't really approach praying over a sick child that way.
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From:juliet_winters
Date:March 27th, 2008 11:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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There was a study where patients who were prayed over got better faster.
That didn't get any where near as much press as the other study where statistically people who were prayed for actually did worse. I hate the press sometimes.

My church prays a lot for the sick. They also visit hospitals and will lay on hands--if it's okay with the patient/parishioner.

Have a lot of work to do and am out of town conference this weekend. Prayers welcome for the trip and for the work, which feels blessed!
(The good news on the conference is that I got a first place in feature writing.)
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 28th, 2008 12:20 am (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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There have been a lot of studies about prayer working in the last few years, but only the one or two that went wrong have made the big presses.

Have a wonderful conference and congratultions!

I love the thought that we can go nowhere that God has not gone before us. This applies to the conference, too!
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From:juliet_winters
Date:March 28th, 2008 01:30 am (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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Now,of course I read that they are looking for highway shooters near I-64, where I'll be...

But surely they wouldn't bother with little ol' me.

Thank you and good night...
From:necoras
Date:April 4th, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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The problem with a scientific test for prayer is that it removes the concept of God. By necessity any test for the effectiveness of prayer treats it as a process and not a communication. A test makes the assumption that a prayer automatically affects whatever the subject of the prayer is, because if it doesn't then the test is not repeatable.

In reality prayer is a communication, a communion with God. Prayer is the equivalent (for the purposes of imparting action onto the material world) of a child asking a parent for something. A parent gives or takes based on what is good for the child. Think of the todler who throws her toy on the ground from their highchair, and asks for it to be picked up. The parent may do it once or twice, but then it becomes a game and they stop picking it up. Looking expressly from the point of view of the child one might see that the toy magically appears back on the chair. However, the parent will quickly stop picking up said toy and the experiment breaks down.

The same issue comes into effect in any attempt to 'prove' that prayer 'works.' If God wants to help you He will. But He's not likely to indulge your curiosity over plants.
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From:arhyalon
Date:April 5th, 2008 07:00 pm (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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>If God wants to help you He will. But He's not likely to indulge your curiosity over plants.

I am puzzled at your response. You seem to be predicting that if there were such a thing as Spindrift, their experiements would not work.

In reality, Spindrift opperated from the 70s to the 90s. They did hundreds of experiments in praying for plants, and these experiments did produce scientifically signficant results. Again and again, on a whole series of experiments, they found that plants prayed for got a result statistically different than those not prayed for. AND that those prayed for by asking for a specific outcome (such as help this plant retain less water) did not do as well as those that were offered love and a prayer of "God, thy will be done."

To disbelieve in scientific prayer is to jump to a conclusion about what God wants. But those working on this project felt they were being led to do this work. They felt that the scientific world view was cutting away at faith, and that if it were shown that faith were effective, even scientifically, this would help people grow closer to God.

The idea that science has to be at odds with religion is a modern idea. Modern science came along and said "hey we can prove things!" and religion responded by saying "No, just use faith!" But they are not necessarily at odds with each other, and it is perfectly possible that God does not want them to be at odds with each other.
From:necoras
Date:April 6th, 2008 03:06 am (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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First, I've never argued that religion was at odds with science. I merely put forward that the idea of prayer is not one of direct cause and effect. Indeed, miracles (defined as the direct action of the Divine upon the mundane) are by definition not subject to the scientific method: they are not repeatable. However, that does not mean that miracles don't happen, merely that they cannot be predicted.

As you posted above, the denomination, nor I assume the religion since atheists were mentioned, seemed not to matter in these experiments. This would seem contrary to the idea of prayer as communication and rather as a effect caused by concentration. There have been other experiments done with a more statistically random sample set which seemed to show that concentration could alter the fall of a ball to the left or right. If the effects on the plants were indeed caused by God, then the prayers of an atheist or a Hindu should have little or no effect: God wouldn't listen to the insincere prayers of an atheist.

To my eyes these experiments argue more to the idea of psionics. Since it would seem that the character of the person had more effect than who the individual was praying, this argues that it was the individual who caused the effect, and not the recipient of the prayer. This can also be extended to the fact that the more generic prayers seemed more effective. When you move your hand you do not know how you do it, you simply do it (yes, we have a scientific explanation for how the nerves and muscles work, but that is external to my point). So then when an individual seeks to help a plant s/he simply does it without understanding the how.

Please do not misunderstand me; I'm not arguing against the effectiveness of prayer. I merely put forth that these experiments are badly designed to test it. I believe that faith and science can coexist. However, I don't think that faith can be tested. That's what makes it faith.
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From:arhyalon
Date:April 6th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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I recommend you check out the book A Journey Into Prayer, which chronicles the Spindrift efforts. The book is slightly awkwardly put together, but I was quite impressed with the devoutness and thoroughness of the Spindrift work.

There are many kinds of prayer: prayer that asks God for something, prayer that acknowledges God's goodness, prayer that praises God, listening prayer (sometimes called meditation.) Prayer is always a communication with God, but it is not always a request.

Those who were asking for God's will to be done were clearly communing with God, but they were not dialoguing, but then neither was Jesus when he asked that God's will be done

Having said all this, I think that this kind of test is something you would have to be called to. You would have to go because you felt God was leading you to do it to glorify His will. I'm not sure that I would feel comfortable participating in such an experiment, not because I believe or disbelieve it, but because prayer seems very immediate to me, an answer to the current need, and not something to be applied when the matter is not serious.

On the other hand, if an opportunity arose to do such a thing, and it came to me that it was okay to go forward, I would.

[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:April 6th, 2008 06:52 pm (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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>When you move your hand you do not know how you do it, you simply do it (yes, we have a scientific explanation for how the nerves and muscles work, but that is external to my point). So then when an individual seeks to help a plant s/he simply does it without understanding the how.

How do you explain that the people who tried to pray: "God please help this plant in the way I am requesting" got a negative or lesser response than those who just surrendered their will to God's will.

I can't think of anything that is more in keeping with prayer, as described in the Bible, than completely surrendering one's will to God's.
From:necoras
Date:April 6th, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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According to the quote in your original post, if the individual was trying to get the plant watered, they did just that. If the individual simply wanted the plant to recover, that's what happened. The individual was able to do exactly what they sought whether that was to water the plant or to make it well.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:April 7th, 2008 01:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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>If the individual simply wanted the plant to recover, that's what happened. The individual was able to do exactly what they sought whether that was to water the plant or to make it well.

Sorry! In that case I did a bad job of explaining it. I said it rather quickly, summing up hundreds of experiments in a few words. What I am describing is the overall results, the results over many many experiments.

As we would expect, sometimes the prayer worked, sometime it did not. But when the person asked for a particular outcome: "God, please help this plant in this way X" Over time and many experiments, they had three reactions:
1) nothing -- many times there was been no reaction.
2) X happened and it was what was needed and it helped the plants.
3) X happened, but they had asked for the wrong thing and it did not help.


On the other hand, they found that for those who prayed "God, they will be done." They got two responses:
1) nothing
2) The health of the plants improved.

Further, they found that if one group prayed for X -- and X happened to be the correct thing to ask for -- and another group prayed "Thy will be done, God", both plants improved...but the the plants that received the "Thy will be done" prays, statistically over time, did better than the plants that received prayers for X.

This suggests that God did answer these people's prayers, at least some of the time, even when what they asked for was not what they actually wanted -- a good outcome for the plant.

Therefore, this suggests that we should be very careful in what we ask for when we pray, that there is a reason we are told to yield our will to God and ask that His will be done!

It's a hard thing to yield that way when we pray, to trust God completely instead of telling him what we think should be done, but I felt that the Spindrift results were motivation to work to increase my trust of God!
From:necoras
Date:April 7th, 2008 02:25 pm (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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I think the issue here is that we both are looking at the same set of data, but with two different hypothesis. Given the limited result set both hypothesis are probably equally valid, but they yield very different conclusions if correct. You argue that God will occasionally answer prayers and that things will turn out better when one yields to His discretion. I certainly cannot argue with that point of view (indeed, I tend to agree) but I do not see that these experiments prove it.

Rather, I tend to see that the human will seems to have some ability, however small and misunderstood, to influence the world around it under the correct circumstances. If there truly is a soul controlling each of our brains (and I believe there is) then it makes sense to me that that soul might have some minuscule effect upon the world beyond the brain. Now, this is an unpopular idea in the scientific community. It is rarely studied, and even less often are the studies given any credence, but then neither is prayer :).

Given the format of these experiments, I think one could argue either hypothesis. I'm not arguing about the conclusions drawn towards prayer, merely that a better designed experiment would be more conclusive. Perhaps have a group 'willing' good or bad to the plants as well as a group praying for them. It might then become more apparent as to if it is the concentration of the individual which has the effect, or if it is some outside entity (God).
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From:arhyalon
Date:April 7th, 2008 07:31 pm (UTC)

Re: Unintentional harm

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C.S. Lewis once said that there are two kinds of people, those who say to God "thy will be done" and those to whom God says, "Thy will be done" -- this second group would be people such as those in Hell, who got what it was they asked for, but not what they probably wanted.

This is what I see here. The people involved believed they were praying in the same way that they pray for other things. They weren't squinting and thinking, they were turning to God.

Those who set their own adgenda sometimes got answered (perhaps always, but we don't know what those who did not seem to get answered were doing, so we can't really know) but the answer was what they asked for, not what they wanted.

Those who turned their will to God received what they wanted.

Since they were praying the same way we might pray, depending upon their various denominations, I think we can only benefit from learning from this...

If we tell God what we want, we might get it, but it might not be what we want.

On the other hand, if we yield our will to God, we can expect to be answered...if even people praying over plants upon whom harm had been intentionally inflicted received answers, how much more should we who pray sincerely expect to receive them.

As to 'better designed experiments' the Spindrift people designed hundreds of different experiments with just such thoughts in mind. If you were to investigate it, you might find some that satisfied your criteria. Some of their experiments, for instance, were set up to separate what they called the "Placibo effect" from the outcome of real prayer. They were pretty thorough folks.
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From:annafirtree
Date:March 28th, 2008 06:47 am (UTC)
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I wonder what criteria they mean when they talk about someone's "qualitative makeup". But it doesn't much surprise me that denomination has little enough to do with effectiveness of prayer. Faith is a lot more... personal, I guess, than denominational.
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 28th, 2008 01:12 pm (UTC)
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>Faith is a lot more... personal, I guess, than denominational.

I think that's what they mean by 'qualitative makeup." -- that the quality of their faith was more important than their denomination.

I don't think they meant that they measured a person's quality -- only that the effectiveness of their prayers came from something other than their religious affiliation.
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From:juliet_winters
Date:March 28th, 2008 02:52 pm (UTC)

personal qualities

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I recommended to someone that when choosing a church, it's good to look at the people who attend. This can hold whether or not a particular denomination is chosen. Most denominations have more than one church in a town, usually for a reason, and the attitudes of a congregation can really help or hurt the spiritual growth of its parishioners.
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From:annafirtree
Date:March 28th, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC)

Re: personal qualities

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Yeah... although sometimes I wish more people were in a state where they could look mostly at what congregation needed them the most instead of which congregation could help them the most. It takes incredible spiritual strength, though, to be able to keep going and helping others without getting support yourself; I don't think most of us are really there.
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From:juliet_winters
Date:March 29th, 2008 12:02 am (UTC)

Re: personal qualities

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No church congregation is perfect, but sure, you should give to your church spiritually and through labor and what you can financially.
But if the congregation is too stuck on itself from a social prominence perspective, that's bad. In other words if people are joining a church because anyone who is ANYONE dahling goes there. Ugh.
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 29th, 2008 12:56 am (UTC)

Re: personal qualities

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I think you've found the right church when you get a perfect match...a church that you can serve and that helps you. It's true that not everyone finds this all the time, and it's not always perfect. There are certain things my church doesn't do, so I hang out with friends from another church for these types of things. But for the most part, I think God leads us to places where we can serve him, and from serving him, grow ourselves.

I should say 'close to perfect' obviously nothing in this world is perfect.


By the way, your picture of the two little tykes is soooooooo cute!!!!

Edited at 2008-03-29 12:56 am (UTC)
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From:annafirtree
Date:March 31st, 2008 05:10 am (UTC)

Re: personal qualities

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Yes....

And I'm glad you like the picture. :) I'd really like one that fits all three of my kids in a space small enough that LJ will accept it as an avatar pic, but I haven't found one yet. I should probably update it, though; both of them are at least a year older than when that picture was taken.
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